Tough as it is, Patriots fans should be happy for Brady and Gronkowski

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Tom Brady #12 and Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots react after Gronkowski pretended to steal Brady's jersey during a pre-game ceremony before the Boston Red Sox home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 3, 2017 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Tom Brady #12 and Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots react after Gronkowski pretended to steal Brady's jersey during a pre-game ceremony before the Boston Red Sox home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 3, 2017 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

It may not be easy, but the right thing to do as New England Patriots fans is to cheer on Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady from afar.

Reunited and it feels so good.

Unless you just so happen to be a fan of the New England Patriots, that is.

At a time when the world desperately needs feel-good stories, the sports community got just that on Tuesday — and rather unexpectedly as well.

There had been rumors and rumblings that retired tight end Rob Gronkowski could un-retire to join his old pal Tom Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but most people dismissed such mutterings as Floridian wishful thinking and Twitter hearsay.

And then all of a sudden, it happened.

In the blink of an eye, the Patriots and Buccaneers seemingly went from discussing a trade … to discussing draft pick compensation for the trade … to finalizing the trade assuming a passed Gronkowski physical … to the passing of the physical … to all of it being said and done and finalized just like that.

Obviously, as quickly as this news cycle moved for all of us in the media and all of the average football fans around the country, today’s developments clearly were the final result of potentially weeks of conversation and ironing out the details.

We’ll probably learn soon enough — most likely from Gronk himself — just how long ago this brainchild of a reunion down on the Bucs formed between him and Brady. My guess is this has been in the works for a long, long time actually.

The biggest losers of today’s news? You’d think it’d be the Patriots right away, and it’s an easy assumption to make.

It actually might be the other three teams in the NFC South though.

The Falcons, Panthers, and Saints now not only have to face the greatest quarterback of all time throwing to arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL right now (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) twice per season — they now have to face those three guys plus the greatest tight end of all time.

Even older, diminished versions of Brady and Gronk are forces to be reckoned with, for sure. They have nine years of chemistry between them, and at the time of Gronk’s retirement, they were the most prolific duo in the NFL in terms of passer rating.

So while the Buccaneers gear up for a run at the Super Bowl (!) and the rest of the NFC quakes in fear, where does all this leave the Patriots?

Well, it’s complicated.

New Englanders who were already struggling with how they’d come to terms with seeing a Brady nameplate in pewter and red next season as opposed to blue and white (or whatever the dominant colors are in the new Patriots uniforms) must now come to grips with seeing another beloved name, number, and figure in the Bucs’ threads as opposed to the Patriots’.

For those who are upset about the level of compensation New England/Bill Belichick received for Gronk, don’t be. It’s frankly a bit of a steal, actually, that the Pats got a fourth-round pick out of moving Gronkowski.

I know it sounds crazy to say when you’re talking about a dominant force of nature like Rob Gronkowski, but simply put, the Patriots didn’t have any leverage left with Gronk. He clearly had no interest in returning to Foxborough — especially not after Belichick let Brady depart the franchise.

Keep in mind, Gronkowski probably never forgot (or forgave?) Belichick for trying to trade him to the Lions prior to the start of the 2018 season.

Even if Gronk and Belichick were able to mend the fences and he felt motivated to return to the team with Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer at QB for New England — and he wouldn’t have — the Patriots couldn’t have made it work financially without some major cap restructuring.

And considering that Belichick was ready to move on from him two years ago, there’s really no good argument for thinking that Bill would want him back in 2020, anyway.

Truthfully, the only team Gronkowski wanted to play with this season was Tampa, and I’m sure that was made known to Belichick and the Patriots long ago.

The Buccaneers already have a solid pair of tight ends on their roster in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, so it’s not as if they were desperate either when they started talking this trade.

The fourth-round pick for the seventh-rounder and Gronkowski is about as good as it gets for the Pats in this situation given all the variables … so let’s move on to the emotional side of things here.

It’s natural for Patriots fans to feel conflicted.

The Buccaneers are not a natural rival for New England — they play in a different conference, different division, different state … you name it. Tampa Bay currently has the worst win/loss percentage among all franchises in the four major North American sports leagues, whereas New England has been the gold standard among winners in the NFL these past two decades.

So really, there’s no reason for Patriots fans to root against the Buccaneers as a team — and certainly not against the Buccaneers’ two newest stars, either.

If Belichick and New England upper management/ownership had wanted Brady back badly enough this season, they could have made it happen. And if they’d found a way to keep Brady in tow, they probably could have either kept Gronkowski from retiring last March or convinced him to un-retire this March.

For better or worse, Belichick has deemed the time is now to move on from both players, just as he has so many times before (Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Ty Law, Wes Welker, and most recently, Stephen Gostkowski all come to mind as examples).

Whether or not you agree with his decision, he’s earned our trust to make it nonetheless. By and large, he’s proven himself to be quite accomplished at getting rid of terrific players right before they start declining or even fall off a cliff completely.

That doesn’t mean we should root for Brady or Gronk to fail though. Especially with them both being in the NFC, the only way that either of them could do any damage to us as Patriots fans is if they end up opposing New England in the Super Bowl.

And — gut check time — the Bucs stand a much better chance right now, at least on paper, of getting there next February compared to the Patriots, anyway. If and when the two teams find themselves at odds, then and only then is the right time to actively root against Brady and Gronk.

Remember: these two guys are franchise legends. They’ll forever deserve our respect and admiration for how they helped turn around one of professional football’s biggest losers and transform that team into a juggernaut.

Brady and Gronkowski can do no wrong as far as the New England area and its spots fans are concerned — period.

Next. In defense of Bill Belichick as GM of the New England Patriots. dark

That doesn’t mean Patriots fans should jump ship and become sea-faring pirates, of course.

Just continue doing what you’ve always done in watching New England football games, following this team, and rooting on the players and coaches.

But if you have a couple TVs, or if the games aren’t on at the same time, then hey — now you have an extra reason to watch another football game and another football team you might not have otherwise cared about in previous years.

Two reasons in fact: No. 12 and No. 87 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.